Finny had never seen Joe without his trademark brown duster. Not ever. Now here he was, not only duster-less but wearing a clean starched shirt with an actual collar.
Tucked into which was a long white linen napkin which, by the look of it, had recently protected the shirt underneath from a variety of meat juices.
Joe recovered first. Swiftly closing the dining-room door behind him, he closed the gap between himself and Finny in one stride.
Finny then found herself being firmly grabbed by the scruff of the neck and hurriedly part carried and, with the toes of her oddly-matched footwear barely brushing the carpet,
part marched back down the hallway. In despair, Finny thought she was about to be quickly ejected back out of the front and onto the street, probably missing out the steps entirely on the way.
Her fingers scrabbled at the neck of her threadbare sweatshirt to try to get enough air so that she could say something, anything,
to stop the seemingly inevitable painful collision with the sidewalk.
Just as the rear of the front door was looming large in front of her,
Joe swerved to the left and Finny suddenly found herself in a wood-panelled room with a large desk and lots of shelves with books and pictures and other expensive looking stuff.
Joe let go of her then, and Finny collapsed to her knees in the middle of a thickly-woven patterned rug.
While she gasped for breath, she heard the door click shut and then saw Joe's legs walk past her towards the desk.
Finny slowly climbed to her feet, her scared eyes watching Joe as he perched his butt on the edge of the desk.
He neatly folded the gravy-stained napkin and put it down on the large green blotter. Joe did not look happy. Finny rubbed at her neck and grimaced.
Hopefully, it would get her some sympathy or at least try and make Joe feel guilty for choking her. It was never going to work, not with Joe.
The gangster who was her boss put his hands in his lap.
Finny had nothing. The plan. The stupid, stupid plan hadn't happened. Her mind worked overtime to come up with a plan 'B'. She thought about asking to see Kirsten.
But Joe would see through that right away. Shit, even her youngest friend, One Tooth would see through that right away. And asking to see Kirsten would do nothing to improve Joe's mood.
Joe leaned towards her.
"Finny? Why Are You Here?"
Finny swallowed. Oh well, maybe if she just told him the truth.
"Um, it's about my locket..."
Any hopes of him getting back to a warm dinner disappeared as Joe listened patiently while Finny basically told him her life story.
Finny's tale wasn't unusual, and Joe had definitely heard worse. His own childhood hadn't exactly involved silver spoons... except when he was taking them to be fenced.
No, Finny's story hadn't done anything to change his mind about sending her on her way with a boot up her scrawny behind.
But, credit to her, Finny had come all the way here to try and get her locket back. She hadn't just given up on it.
Joe's small but growing conscience fought with his ingrained low opinion of humanity in general. In the end, he had to admit that it was probably the freckles that swung it.
Finny finished her story. She looked up.
Joe took a deep breath and let it out in a long, noisy sigh.
"Okay. How about this. If you, Finny, keep up with your reading, and you stop being such a pain in my neck about it... for a month, I'll give you your locket back. Assuming it's still there.
Finny thought about it. 'Assuming it's still there'? Oh, of course.
There was a tradition in the factory that good behaviour or, more importantly, going above your ammunition quota,
was often rewarded by a free dip of any of the confiscated items in the Ditty Box. Her heart sank.
The chances of a solid silver locket not being the first choice of any kid lucky enough to get the next free dip was non-existent. These were mainly ex-street kids, after all.
Finny hesitantly voiced her concerns and then waited. Joe looked at her. He started to say something, then stopped. Then started again, then stopped.
Reluctantly, he admitted to himself the truth of Finny's words. Finally, he spoke.
"Fine. A week then. One week. And I want to see a vast improvement in your reading. Okay, Miss Ophelia?
Finny had pushed her luck, and she knew it. The 'Miss Ophelia' had been a warning. A week though, a whole week. But it was the best she was going to get.
Joe's left eye was twitching, and that was never good. She nodded and the twitch in Joe's eye diminished.
"Good." Joe stood up and took Finny by the arm and steered her towards the door. "Now, time for you to..."
But it never became clear what it was time for her to do because Joe's words were almost drowned out by a loud, squelchy growl coming from Finny's middle.
Joe stopped, pulling Finny up short next to him.
"Have you eaten?" Joe asked.
Finny shook her head. Joe rolled his eyes.
Joe set off again, taking Finny back into the hallway, but instead of turning left where the front door waited,
Joe turned right and took Finny through to the kitchen where Silja was just finished trying to lick the pattern off a bowl long since empty of ice cream. Joe propelled Finny forward towards her.
"Silja, here." Joe propelled Finny towards the teenager "Feed her, then kick her out."
Silja put down the bowl and then smiled hugely at Finny as Joe disappeared back to what remained of his dinner and the promised 'dessert' later in the evening.
Finny backed away, fearing Silja's deadly touch and getting infected with Manbites.
As it turned out, however,
a couple of minutes later Finny was sitting at the kitchen table happily demolishing a sandwich containing more meat than she usually saw in a week and that was surrounded by bread that
was white and soft instead of brown and gritty.
Silja, arms folded, watched her eat for a few moments before a thought seemed to strike the dreadlocked teen.
Snapping her fingers, Silja disappeared off into the larder and emerged a couple of seconds later with a cloth flour sack.
Still barely halfway through her sandwich, Finny, her legs lazily swinging back and forth under the chair,
watched with growing interest as Silja moved from one end of the kitchen counter to the other, gradually filling the sack with anything edible.
Half a joint of beef, a chicken carcass (minus its legs), an enormous wedge of cheese, a pot of jam and even a half-filed jar of olives all disappeared into the flour sack.
When Silja had reached the end of the counter, she stopped and looked into the sack. She frowned for a second before reaching up into a cupboard and pulling out a large paper bag.
Silja looked from the paper bag to the sack and back again, then shrugged and jammed the whole bag down into the already full flour sack.
Seemingly satisfied, Silja nodded and made a contented grunt. Then she paused and slowly turned her head towards the rapidly filling Finny.
Finny's swinging legs stopped, and she forced down what was in her mouth in a single tortuous swallow.
She didn't like the growing smile that was slowly spreading across the, now increasingly unlikely, killer-ninja-assassin's face.
Finny was still deciding if she should throw the sandwich as a distraction, or run with it in her hand when Silja turned and sank into a squat to open a cupboard under the sink.
After a bit of rummaging, she stood up again triumphantly waving a big bar of soap for Finny to see before forcing it into the sack and tying the neck securely.
The single-digit gesture aimed at Silja's back was gone and the protruding tongue replaced by a beaming smile by the time Silja turned and plonked the flour sack down on the table in front
"Okee. SpiveyJoe says to feeds you sos I feeds you good. Iss his hard lucky that wassa his suppers. Heh!"
Finny blinked because Silja's laughter was borderline scary. She slowly slid off the chair.
Watching Silja very carefully just in case the mad Outsider nanny, or whatever she was, tried to touch her,
Finny reached for the flour sack and somehow managed to get it firmly locked under her arm, all the while never losing her grip on her sandwich.
Silja found this even funnier and, still laughing, she led Finny across the kitchen to the back door.
The door closed behind Finny and overhead, the first rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.
Finny took a few moments to finish the wonderful sandwich and let her eyes get used to the darker sky of full-on evening.
Once she had her night vision, she crossed the yard and left by the back gate.